Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biography of Anna (Annie) Simms Banks, 1862-1923

By Le Datta Grimes
Graduate student, University of Kentucky

Anna (or Annie as she was known) Simms Banks earned national acclaim in 1920 when she became the first black woman to serve as a delegate to the Kentucky Republican Party Convention. Newspapers across the country – including the New York Times – heralded the news of her accomplishment, saying she displayed neither “embarrassment” nor “confusion” as she spoke before other delegates, who elegantly referred to her as “The Lady from Clark.”

Anna Simms was born in 1862 in Brandenburg, Kentucky, and she rose to national fame from humble beginnings. Her mother, Isabella, was a domestic servant and her father, Marcus, (possibly Marquis) worked as a barber. She attended Louisville’s public schools, and later Kentucky College (Baptist). In 1890, Simms lived in Louisville, Kentucky, and worked as a school teacher. On July 10, 1906, she married William Webb Banks, a prominent journalist who wrote for both black and white newspapers in Winchester, Kentucky. Together the couple embarked on a life of social activism, civic engagement and “racial uplift along religious, educational and industrial lines.”

Banks participated in several local and state organizations. According to a brief sketch she wrote of her life, she was a member of the Baptist General Association, the Baptist Women’s Educational Convention, and the (Kentucky) State Federation of Women’s Clubs. She also served with the Red Cross and was a member of the Kentucky State Council of Defense. In addition to these commitments, church work proved an important part of Banks’s life. She sang and regularly gave readings, such as “The C.M.E. Church and Her Great Commission” in both the local Baptist and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches. Beyond this, Banks helped organize a hospital movement for blacks in Winchester. In 1908, she was part of an engaged black citizenry that raised over $1,100 for the Berea College Industrial School. In 1913, Banks accompanied her husband to both Washington, D.C. and New York, where he served as Kentucky’s commissioner to the Emancipation Exposition. During the World War I, Banks also served on the Executive Committee of Negro War Work Auxiliary. In 1920, Banks’s political work took center stage. That year, women in Kentucky won the right to vote in presidential elections, and black women in Winchester, Kentucky, embraced political action.

When the Republicans of the Seventh Congressional District – the district once represented by Henry Clay in Congress – met on March 3, 1920 in Louisville, Annie Simms Banks was among several black women who attended the meeting. She was appointed to the Rules Committee, where she worked to prepare reports that were later submitted to the state assembly. During the convention, “The Lady from Clark” boldly declared, “We are just beginning to open our eyes in politics, but before long we are going to make ourselves felt, and you can depend on Annie Simms Banks of Winchester, to do her part for the grand old party.” Her words “evoked the most enthusiastic applause of the day.”

Annie Simms Banks died of pneumonia in 1923. She was buried in the Winchester Cemetery.


Alice Marshall Women’s History Collection, [Series II, Box 11], Archives and Special Collections, Penn State Harrisburg Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Hardin, John A., Karen Cotton McDaniel and Gerald L. Smith. The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2015.

Report of the Activities of the Kentucky Council of Defense Kentucky. Council of Defense 1920, 4. Accessible at the Hathi Trust.

“Colored Column,” Winchester News, Dec. 11. 1908, 7; Dec. 18, 1908, 3; Dec. 3, 1910, 4; Dec. 16, 1910, 5

“Look Who’s Here--‘The Lady from Clark,’” The Tulsa Star, March 20, 1920, 1.

“Negro Women Take Part in Kentucky G.O.P. Convention,” St. Louis-Dispatch, March 3, 1920, 3.

“Negress is Delegate in Kentucky,” New York Times, March 4, 1920, 7.

“Negro Woman Sits As Delegate in Ky Republican Convention,” New York Age, March 13, 1920, 1.

U.S. Federal Censuses, 1880, 1890 [Jefferson County, Kentucky]


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